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A service which deploys retired nurses and healthcare professionals to find out how care home residents lives can be improved has been shortlisted for a Nursing Standard Nurse Award.

Tanya Strange

Tanya Strange: listening to patients is what nursing is all about. Picture credit: Martin Chainey

The Care Home 'Ask and Talk' (CHAaT) volunteer service in Wales, is a finalist for the Enhancing the Experience of Care Award, sponsored by NHS England.

Divisional nurse primary care and networks Tanya Strange, who works for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, set up the service. She will find out if she has won the award at the Nurse Awards ceremony at the Savoy Hotel, London, on May 1.

Tanya wanted to ensure Gwent care homes were safe for residents after watching the Panorama expose of neglect and abuse of residents of Winterbourne View in Bristol. The project also shares and celebrates the great practice that is happening in the vast majority of care homes.

Tanya built a pilot model and recruited eight volunteers, mainly retired nurses. She developed a comprehensive training package, including sections on protection of vulnerable adults and whistleblowing. As well as helping care home managers improve their governance, she created a patient information leaflet, secured senior nurse support and developed inductions at the homes.

All nursing home staff have been trained in advance care planning, with more older people being actively involved in day-to-day and end-of-life decisions. Patient experience now forms part of nurses continuing professional development and competencies are assessed.

Volunteers, mainly nurses, are drawn from the local NHS Retirement Fellowship. They support 3,500 residents in 101 nursing and residential homes through face-to-face meetings where they can talk in private about their nursing home. Where patients are unable to communicate, relatives are given the opportunity for a confidential discussion.

Great practice

Tanya stresses that all the measures are as much about identifying and sharing great practice as safeguarding. There are really positive stories that need to be celebrated. We need to show the public that these homes can be a really good place to live.

Lynn Tanner, a retired Macmillan nurse, volunteers for CHAaT. She says: Sometimes residents tell us things that they havent told the staff before little things that can really improve their quality of life. One woman really missed having her daily newspaper, when I asked her why she didnt have it, she said "I dont know". The staff were more than happy to make sure she got one.

And we have found sound evidence of great care, says Lynn, Such as the wife who could still provide her husbands bed linen, something she had done for many years and the fish and chip supper still shared on a Friday evening by a son and his father.

Heather Joness mum became a resident of her care home three years ago. CHAaT is a brilliant service and should be in all care homes throughout the country and the rest of the UK. It has so many benefits for all of the residents and definitely improves their quality of life.

Older people may not want to mention an issue to someone who works at the care home because they are worried the standard of care will drop. The generation has a different set of values and doesnt want to make an issue.

CHAaT volunteers are independent. The residents know that it is in confidence but also that if the volunteer thinks it is an issue they will speak to the manager. I know my mum has someone to talk to and feels safe.

'She thinks the fact that they are retired nurses and healthcare professionals is key to its effectiveness.

They have been in the care industry and know not only what to ask, but how to get the residents to talk about anything that is bothering them.

Third sector

The judges praised Tanya for using the skills of those previously employed in the NHS to support people and for working so successfully with the third sector.

Changes are made in response to patient feedback and it is sustainable Tanya has a plan for the future, they commented. The project shows that Gwent is learning from things that went wrong and improving patient outcomes because of it.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board Executive Director of Nursing Denise Llewellyn says: 'Tanya is a professional and dedicated nurse who constantly strives and innovates to improve the patient experience using every opportunity to work in partnership to achieve this. The implementation of The Good Care Guide in Gwent will give older people and their relatives a voice regarding their care.

'Tanya has been instrumental in gaining the confidence of nursing and residential home matrons as well as residents and their families. I am delighted that Tanya has been shortlisted in the prestigious Nurse of the Year Awards for her work setting up a volunteer force of retired nurses to advocate for nursing home residents and is extremely well deserved'.

It is not the first time Tanya has been shortlisted for the Nurse Awards. In 2012 she was shortlisted for a project supporting patients with Huntingdon Disease and their families and carers.

The disease is an inherited neurological condition with a mid-life onset that affects muscle coordination, cognitive function and leads to dementia. Tanya and a colleague developed a multidisciplinary community support service using expertise from a wide range of specialists, providing rapid access to assessment and treatment, care close to or at home and constant support for carers.

I am delighted to be a finalist at the Nursing Standard Nurse Awards, Tanya says. It is so prestigious and gives you a professional platform to share your practice. I can remember every Nurse of the Year.

I am especially pleased to be shortlisted for the NHS England Enhancing the Experience of Care Award, she adds. If you are a nurse and you are doing something that is listening to the patient voice, making sure the voice of the most vulnerable is heard, and acting upon it to improve their lives, then that is what nursing is all about.

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